Espionage at the Gramsh Plant? The Prosecutor’s Office Extends Investigations and Seeks Help from SPAK

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Three citizens from Russia and Ukraine who were caught photographing at the Gramsh Plant have not yet appeared in court, more than a year after the incident. While they have been free from detention since May 2023, as pretrial detention lost its validity, the Elbasan Prosecutor’s Office has extended the investigation for another 3 months. Investigators are facing a critical piece of evidence following the failure to produce evidence in another espionage case involving 7 Russian and Czech citizens. This time, SPAK is “lending a hand” with examinations that could be valuable in proving the charges against Mikhail Zorin, Fedir Alpatov, and Svetlana Timofeeva. Faktoje provides some details about the profiles of the three individuals, their movements, and the prosecution’s evidence.

Anila Hoxha

Elbasan Prosecutor’s Office has been unable to bring espionage charges against Mikhail Zorin, 25 years old, Fedir Alpatov, 26 years old, and Svetlana Timofeeva, 34 years old. Since their arrest in flagrante at the Gramsh Plant on August 20, 2022, they have not yet been formally charged as suspects for the acts of “providing information” (espionage) in collaboration and abuse of duty, offenses stipulated in Articles 237/5 and 214 and 25 of the Penal Code.

The Penal Code’s Provisions on Espionage, Article 214

The Chief Prosecutor of Elbasan, Kreshnik Ajazi, confirmed to “Faktoje” that delays in expert assessments were the main reason for extending the investigative period by another three months:

The criminal offenses attributed to the persons under investigation are the same as those at the time of criminal proceedings. During August, the final electronic expert reports were also administered, the data from which are currently being analysed by the antiterrorism unit’s specialists.”

Previous Failure of Espionage Case Files

For the three young Russians, the justice system faced the same obstacle that led to the failure of another espionage case due to a lack of evidence. (See the article here:  The Russian and Czech espionage case is closed due to a lack of evidence).

With a request for technical-electronic examination, the Elbasan Prosecutor’s Office turned to SPAK and sought assistance from the expertise sector. The Elbasan prosecution’s efforts to decrypt the five mobile phones seized from the suspects Zorin, Alpatov, and Timofeeva were completed on March 27, 2023. In similar cases, prosecutors had failed in their attempts to conduct expert examinations of the devices at the Police Forensic Laboratory, resulting in the suspension of investigations into the Budanov case and others.

The year-long investigation of the two Russians, Timofeeva, Zorin, and the Ukrainian Alpatov, in addition to a series of joint searches with the anti-terrorism sector, expanded to analyse their profiles on social networks.

The three young individuals insisted that they had gone to the Gramsh military base out of passion for photographing abandoned bases and as bloggers. However, the prosecution believes all three are involved in espionage.
In May 2023, Judge Matilda Fetahu imposed house arrest on Mikhail Zorin, while Timofeeva and Alpatov were required to report to a judicial police officer until the investigations were completed.

While examining Svetlana Timofeeva’s online life, investigators found that in her Twitter profile (now X), she described herself as an urban explorer and drone operator.

On Flickr, Timofeeva had posted 985 photos, on Socium, she revealed her date and place of birth, Tbilisi, Georgia. On Instagram, according to the prosecution, Timofeeva had 256,000 followers. During her time in detention, her account remained active and was even used to collect funds from her friends.

The account is under the name Lana Sator (According to the prosecution, it belongs to Svetlana Timofeeva).

They made appeals during her pretrial detention for donations to cover her legal expenses for defence, listing the relevant bank account numbers,” the prosecution’s report on the progress of the investigation states.

Movement Itinerary of the 3 Suspects Prior to Their Arrest in Gramsh

In the investigations into Svetlana Timofeeva, 34 years old, the prosecution reports that she was checked at Orio Al Serio Airport (Bergamo, Italy) on December 1, 2018. Timofeeva is said to have applied for a visa in Poland in 2012, declaring herself as a teacher. Two years later, she applied for a German visa, listing her profession as a company manager. Later, in Lithuania, she appears in the period 2017-2018, applying for a tourist visa and transit passage.

Timofeeva’s passion for the Balkans, based on information gathered by the prosecution, emerges in 2018, where she was first registered at a border point in Montenegro and stayed for three days, according to the local police system.

She travelled in a van with Croatian license plates and was accompanied by two other Russian citizens, Gleb Chelekin, whom she declared as a friend with whom she had travelled to several states, and Maria Mikhaleva,” the prosecution emphasizes. To identify Timofeeva’s travel map, the prosecution says that her return to Montenegro also occurred in 2019, with entry at Podgorica Airport on a direct flight from Russia, with a 4-day stay. On March 16, 2019, the blogger continued her journey to Albania.

In a car with an Albanian license plate driven by A.T., an Albanian citizen, Timofeeva was accompanied by the Russian citizen, Arseni Vitalivic Simenoi.” The woman stayed for two more days and then continued her tour to North Macedonia, which she used as a  transit route to Kosovo, from where she left for Montenegro again.

The Ukrainian Fedir Alpatov, 26 years old, born and residing in Kiev, Ukrainian nationality, Ukrainian citizenship, higher education

Passionate about luxury cars, he left his first trace in international police systems during a routine check when he entered Italy and was verified by Italian border police in Udine. Three months later, on August 10, 2022, Alpatov applied for residency in Italy, arguing that he needed temporary protection following the Ukrainian emergency declared due to Russian aggression. Investigations into his activities show movements such as staying at a hotel in Catania and later departing from Italy on August 17, 2022, through the port of Bari to Durres. Thus, he responded to the invitation of his friends who were waiting for him in Durres, ready for the Albanian adventure. According to Albanian authorities, Alpatov had been in Albania earlier from July 26 to July 31, 2021, on a trip he made with the same car, this time from the Qafe Thane border crossing to Kakavija, where the trip ended.

According to the investigative file containing a significant volume of investigative activities, the Ukrainian citizen, who was born and resides in Kiev, he followed an Instagram account under the name Cyanidium and a Facebook account under the name Ivan Federov. On the “cyanidium” account, he used to post photos during his travels to various places with his “Chevrolet” car, which was kept seized for four months .

He posted photos from tunnels, mountains, various environments in military facilities, and bullets,” describe the experts who are analysing the profiles on social networks.

Equally passionate about such travels seems to be also the chemistry student Mikhail Zorin, 25 years old, born in Moscow and residing in Prague, Czech Republic. According to the prosecution, he had applied several times for a visa to Latvia for family reasons. In the summer of 2022, he entered Croatia, and on July 30, he entered Albanian territory, where he crossed the border at the Muriqan border crossing on foot. Operating as “osimium_tetroxide” on Instagram, Zorin acts like his friends, posting photos of various factories. But the most interesting piece of evidence found in the military-coloured bag was a sketch-shaped map with some notes in Russian; at the bottom of it, there are the numbers 616 and 617.

The sketch found on Mikhail Zorin, according to the prosecution

The meaning of this sketch-map is expected to be revealed by the prosecution at the conclusion of the investigation.

Excerpt from the investigative report regarding the materials found on the suspect Michail Zorin

Testimonies, what happened at the Gramsh Plant?

The prosecution is convinced that Alpatov, Timofeeva, and Zorin came to Albania on a spying mission, ordered by Russian intelligence services. Confronted by the military guards at the Military Mechanical Plant/Cekin, they reacted by using spray. Ardian Xhaka, a professional soldier on mobile guard duty, provided the following testimony to the authorities:

“I saw the suspicious individual during the attempt to enter military facility number eight. I ordered him to stop, but he fled running, passing the perimeter wall of the Plant. When we approached him, he resisted and attacked us with chemical spray, which he took out of his pocket and sprayed on our faces and bodies.” The same was testified by two other soldiers. Meanwhile, the forensic examination by the Institute of Forensic Police showed that the substance was pepper spray.

“The Gc/Ms analysis of the residues in the sprayed object has shown the presence of Capsaicin and Nonvamide, which are chemical elements and components of Pepper Spray.

Unofficially, it is disclosed that Zorin admits to being involved in the espionage mission after being recruited during a protest in Moscow

A number of letters have been sent to the General Staff of the Armed Forces regarding the status of the Cekin Plant and its security level. However, the specific mission of the suspects has not yet been revealed through the investigations. Among the seized materials, the prosecution states that there are 2 drones, night surveillance equipment, a laptop, cards, and 6 mobile devices belonging to the 3 young individuals. ‘From the manual examination, it is noted that an application for online communication has been installed, but the databases are stored in the Cloud memory. Authorization has been requested to use internet connection to a virtual computer in order to create and retrieve all communications and contacts from this application, without contaminating the evidence,’ emphasized in the prosecution’s letters from Elbasan.

The group of investigators mentions that the young individuals not only took photographs in the former weapons factory but also in other facilities classified as critical infrastructure.

Considering that the location where foreign nationals were found is near Lake Banjë-Gramsh, the Elbasan prosecution has requested visual footage of the dam of this hydroelectric plant, as well as of any other operational site,” declared the Elbasan prosecutor’s office. However, the response provided did not offer any meaningful information regarding the accusation.

The Banjë Hydroelectric Power Plant records visual footage for a maximum period of 7 calendar days, after which the system automatically deletes it. Under these conditions, we do not have stored visual footage,” says the response.

It is SPAK examinations that are expected to provide useful insight to the investigation.

I can confirm that we will soon have a final conclusion of the preliminary investigations,” declared Kreshnik Ajazi, Elbasan prosecutor for Faktoje.